What would Anne Marie Schubert do as California attorney general?
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If you’ve heard Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert speak at any point in the last half-decade, you’ve probably heard about her special disdain for two numbers: 47 and 57.
Those are the two ballot propositions that California voters passed overwhelmingly as part of the decades-long policy upheaval to reduce the state’s crowded prisons and make the legal system less punitive.
Now, riding a wave of public apprehension about crime, Schubert is running to be the next attorney general of California. The career prosecutor is too politically savvy to say: “I told you so.”
But in a 75-minute conversation with CalMatters reporters earlier this month, she did, in fact, tell us so.
“I have long been raising the alarm…The consequences of 47 are very vivid now,” she said, saying that the law effectively “decriminalized” theft.
In fact, Proposition 47, which voters passed in 2014, reclassified certain crimes, including theft of items worth less than $950, as misdemeanors. Two years later, voters passed Prop. 57 making it easier for inmates charged with all but the most serious crimes to apply for early parole.
Schubert may sound like many in the state GOP in her criticisms of California’s liberal shift on criminal justice, but she isn’t a Republican. Not any more. In 2018, after a bruising reelection battle to be Sacramento County’s top prosecutor, she left the party and became a “no party preference” voter.
This year she’s hoping to unseat incumbent Democrat Rob Bonta. But to finish in the top two in the June 7 primary and make it to the November ballot, she’ll also need to snatch the “tough on crime” mantle from Republicans Nathan Hochman and Eric Early.
“I think we’re at a time in California, right now, where people are reeling (from)…a tsunami of poor public policies,” she said.
Available crime statistics paint a more uncertain picture. Recent reports from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Public Policy Institute of California found that reported crime has increased, but just back up to 2019 levels after a dip during the worst of the pandemic, while an alarming increase in the homicide rate follows a national trend.
Schubert discounts the official data, noting that crime is often underreported. “Talk to the retailers or the people that are actually living it every day,” she said.
For those voters with buyers’ remorse about the state’s past criminal justice “reforms,” Schubert is presenting herself as a tough, nonpartisan corrective.
Here are four other highlights from our conversation with Schubert:
A grisly resume
Schubert made a name for herself in the Sacramento district attorney’s office by using DNA forensics to prosecute cold cases. That work culminated in the arrest and prosecution of the “Golden State Killer” who terrorized the Sacramento area in the 1970s and ’80s. It has also taken Schubert to some of the darker corners of the human psyche — details she doesn’t shy away from — though she prefers to talk about the victims.
“If we cannot recognize the human toll of crime in our policies and our laws, then we’re failing,” she said.
Schubert has made that human toll a centerpiece of her campaign. At a press conference last spring, Schubert announced her candidacy surrounded, by the family members of serial murder victims, abducted children and slain police officers. Campaign kick-offs are usually upbeat affairs, but Schubert recounted many of the crimes in detail.
A few months later, her campaign launched a true-crime podcast, with each episode exploring a case that Schubert’s office prosecuted.
In the interview, Schubert, perhaps mindful of the state electorate’s recent track record of voting against tough-on-crime measures, stressed that she isn’t solely interested in locking people away. The two most memorable moments of her career, she said: The 2018 arrest and prosecution of the Golden State Killer, but also the 2020 exoneration through DNA evidence of Ricky Davis, an El Dorado County man who spent 15 years in prison for murder.
Liberal language, conservative critiques
Schubert couldn’t be mistaken for a progressive prosecutor, but she borrowed the language of the left to hammer the state’s criminal justice system and the Legislature’s crime policies.
Exhibit 1: Though Prop. 57 makes it easier for many prison inmates to qualify for parole consideration, those convicted of the most serious offenses are denied that extra leeway. Those 23 crimes are designated “violent felonies” under state law. Conservatives regularly highlight the most deplorable offenses that are deemed “nonviolent.”
“We can be the most progressive state you want to say we are,” she said. “But when we continue to tell our community that domestic violence is a nonviolent crime…I find that atrocious.”
Schubert also criticized the state for being too generous in awarding good behavior credits to inmates — but also called on the state to spend more on rehabilitation.
“If we’re going to hand out credits like Halloween candy without adequate rehab, we are not doing a service to that individual, to that crime victim, and to our community,” she said.
Calling herself a nonpolitician
Schubert touts her “no party preference” label as an “authentic” expression of who she is and how she views the job of attorney general.
“I’m not in this for politics. I love public safety,” she said.
But that self-description is belied somewhat by Schubert’s decade-plus in politics. She briefly ran to be a superior court judge in 2010. In 2014, she won election as Sacramento County District attorney, then won again in 2018. Schubert also played a major role in two statewide ballot campaigns: a successful one in 2012 to preserve the death penalty and an unsuccessful effort in 2020 to tweak Propositions 47 and 57.
Almost all of that political activism she did as a Republican.
Running as an independent now could be Schubert’s best shot at winning over a statewide electorate that hasn’t elected a Republican since 2006. But Schubert said her political affiliation reflects her earnest view that law enforcement is a nonpartisan business. She also has plenty of personal experience putting politics aside. Just ask her brother, Frank, who led the Proposition 8 campaign in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage in California.
“It was personal to me because I know how I am as a mom,” said Schubert, who is openly gay and the mother of two. “His views are perhaps based in his religion, and I don’t disrespect anybody’s religion. I just disagree.”
Frank Schubert now supports his sister’s campaign.
Running against Gascón and Boudin
In the interview, Schubert mentioned Bonta twice. She name-dropped Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón seven times.
Schubert makes no secret of the fact that she is campaigning at least as much against Gascón and Chesa Boudin, his fellow progressive prosecutor in San Francisco, as she is against Bonta. She calls him “ideologically aligned” with the two DAs, whom she accused of trying to “dismantle the justice system.”
Both Gascón and Boudin have rankled police unions and rank-and-file prosecutors by phasing out cash bail, ending the use of most sentencing enhancements, supporting parole opportunities for inmates in most cases and referring many misdemeanor convictions toward non-penal alternatives. Boudin is facing a recall on June 7, with another possible one in the works against Gascón.
While Schubert blames the two prosecutors for rising crime in their jurisdictions, she deflected a question about whether she bears responsibility for an increase in gun homicides in Sacramento County. Schubert said the more meaningful distinction among DAs is not the crime rate, but “how do you deal with it as a prosecutor.”
After the interview, a column in the San Francisco Examiner raised the case of Justin Shepard, a former Sacramento police officer who was arrested and charged in San Francisco with domestic violence and assault. That came three months after Schubert’s office declined to file charges in a similar incident. Following Shepard’s arrest in San Francisco, the Sacramento D.A.’s office reversed course and filed its own charges.
Schubert declined to comment through her campaign spokesperson Kelly Garman, who instead referred questions to the Sacramento District Attorney’s office. In a written statement, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet pointed to a prior statement issued by Shepard’s lawyer who claimed that his client’s girlfriend had “fully recanted her allegations.”
The office’s subsequent decision to file charges “had nothing to do with San Francisco’s filing decision, but rather consideration of new information received by law enforcement,” Bladet said. Sacramento District Attorney’s office spokesperson Shelly Orio refused to provide further details about that additional information.
In the CalMatters interview, Schubert vowed that if Gascón and Boudin are still in office next year and she’s attorney general, she would “step in” and aggressively prosecute cases and challenge parole applications if they decline to do so.“It’s not necessarily what I would want to do, but crime victims do have a right,” she said. “And so I would be willing, but I’m not going to go crazy the first day.”